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Collection 227 Ephemera of John Pinney

Identifier: CN 227

Scope and Contents

This collection contains two reels of microfilm of materials created by John Brooke Pinney (1806-1882), including a diary, reports, and correspondence to New York Colonization Society about the status of an American colony in Liberia and its educational facilities for freed African slaves, in particular the College of Monrovia. Includes details of how slavery affected Liberia, educational needs of Liberians, also early history of missionary efforts of the Presbyterian Church and American Colonization Society. Also contains a 1975 thesis by James Pena, titled John B. Pinney: Presbyterian Missionary, and biographical data from Fannie Spooner, Pinney's daughter.


  • Created: 1836-1975
  • Majority of material found within 1836-1880

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

John Brooke Pinney was born December 25, 1806, in Baltimore, Maryland, and grew up in Colebrook, Connecticut. He graduated from the University of Georgia after preparing for a career in law and was admitted to the bar in 1828. However, as a result of being converted to Christianity in his senior year, he decided instead to study for the ministry. His father's opposition to this plan to leave law made it necessary for Pinney to spend a year teaching in Charleston, South Carolina, to raise tuition expenses for Princeton Theological Seminary. After graduation from the Seminary in 1830, he volunteered for African mission work with the Pittsburgh Synod of the Presbyterian Church. Pinney was subsequently ordained as the first foreign missionary of the Presbytery of Philadelphia on October 12, 1832.

In 1833, he also became connected with the American Colonization Society and was sent to Africa, both as an agent for the Society and as a missionary for the Presbyterian Church. In the former capacity, he was Acting-Governor of Liberia and also was commissioned as agent for re-captured Africans. Though offered appointment as permanent Governor, he refused this in order to remain a missionary. The stresses of a dual role, plus recurrent attacks of African fever, forced his return to the United States after two years. Following a period of illness and emotional exhaustion, Pinney gradually resumed normal life and married Ellen Agnes Seward on September 13, 1836, in Guilford, Connecticut. During their years together, the Pinneys had a family of six girls and four boys; four of the children died in infancy.

Pinney remained an agent to the New York Colonization Society, and in 1836 he wrote a complete report of the state of the settlement in Liberia for the Society. The following year, 1837, he became Corresponding Secretary to the New England branch of the American Colonization Society. He resigned this position in 1847 when Liberia became an independent nation and accepted a pastorate of the Presbyterian Church in Washington, Pennsylvania. When the interest in Liberia continued, he requested release from his ministry to take up the duties of Corresponding Secretary to the New York Colonization Society. This position he filled until 1863, a period of time which included a trip to Africa in 1858. Again he left the Society, feeling that efforts to support education in the newly-independent country had become fruitless.

Pinney did not lose concern for the black situation, however, and when the position of Consul-General was formed after President Lincoln's formal recognition of Liberia as an independent country, he applied for the post. He was accepted and in 1863 returned to Africa for a term which ended in 1865 when he resigned and returned to work for the New York Society. His fact-finding trip back to Liberia in 1868-1869 reported on the conditions of educational facilities still supported by the Society. He followed this trip with a series of lectures and other work on behalf of Lincoln University near Philadelphia and the College of Monrovia, Liberia, and the educational needs of blacks in both countries. Later in 1869, Pinney decided that his work for Liberia was essentially complete because of what appeared to be problems which would not be overcome without support of the colonists and their government and he retired from public life.

In 1876, Pinney accepted another offer from the New York Society to return to missionary work. In this capacity, he again undertook a trip to Liberia in 1878 for assessment of educational facilities there. His observations confirmed rumors of incompetent teachers and run-down property and while he was there, the President of the College of Monrovia resigned. Pinney was asked and agreed to accept appointment as President. In this capacity, he fought for better salaries and for moving the College to a more congenial site which would provide conditions for students to work while studying, as well as making it possible for the College to be self-supporting. He also fought in the legislature for laws which would be more supportive of the College, but these bills were vetoed. Aware that only legislative support from the colony itself would secure the educational needs of Liberia, Pinney resigned after a six-month tenure and returned to America. However, he continued to travel on behalf of the Society and made a trip to England and Scotland during the two-year period which followed.

In 1879, the Pinneys had purchased a homesteading property on the Crystal River, Montague, Florida. On this site they settled permanently in 1881 when age and the effects of paralysis curtailed a more strenuous life for Rev. Pinney. Pinney's interest and dedication to the interests of blacks continued and he conducted classes in a small private school which he built on his property. It was also used as a church in which he preached to blacks of the community until his death, at age seventy-six, on December 25, 1882. Although his efforts had appeared to be without success, eventually all of Pinney's recommendations for the College of Monrovia were adopted and he was eulogized by the Society as a man "of almost singular devotion to his work...and unwearied in labor."


1 Box

2 Reels of microfilm

Language of Materials


Arrangement of Material

[NOTE: In the Arrangement section, the notation "folder 2-5 means box 2, folder 5]

James Pena’s thesis details Pinney's life as a missionary to Africa and his involvement with the Pennsylvania and New York chapters of the American Colonization Society, which included concern and financial support for educational facilities in Liberia. The scope of the thesis includes the period of the gradual expansion of the work of the unilateral American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missionaries into individual denominational mission programs. It also provides valuable insights into early programs to deal with the freed slaves and the problems of attempting to resettle American blacks in an entirely new setting, a plan which was opposed by both black and white Americans. The history of Liberia as an independent colony is also outlined.

The two reels of microfilm are of Pinney's reports and correspondence during years when he was traveling back and forth to Liberia, both as an agent and as a missionary. Reel 1 is a copy of a report made by Pinney to the New York Colonization Society following a fact-finding trip in 1836 to Liberia, which had been founded by the Society in 1823 as a site for the resettlement of freed American slaves.

His report begins with a history of the American colony in that country, including the physical setting, native inhabitants and their customs, and economic bases for trade, which included slave traffic. The report gives graphic evidence of traffic's effect on the country. This is followed by a listing of reasons why colonists should continue to emigrate, two of which were the benefit of using experience of the past to build a stronger colony and the opportunity both to propagate Christianity and to be examples in behavior and government to the population. He describes the hostility of slave traders, desire for teachers by many of the natives, and possibilities for the study of geology, flora, and fauna. Defects and problems are also listed in a candid acknowledgment of what remained to be done and the slow progress of changing prejudices and customs, particularly in regard to slavery. The final portion of the reel is a drawing of Cape Palmas, dated 1855, which was then an American settlement of about twelve hundred.

Reel 2 is also a report to the Society, written in Pinney's capacity as Corresponding Secretary. It is a diary of his fifth voyage to Liberia between August 5, 1968, and January 5, 1869. The trip was undertaken as a survey and assessment of the condition and future of educational facilities supported by the Society in Liberia, and Liberia College in Monrovia in particular. Details of an ocean voyage under sail include worship services on deck, weather reports, and books Pinney was reading.

Traveling along the coast after arrival, Pinney described the neglected condition of the site of the College and its buildings and its shortage of both teachers and scholars. He comments on the effect of the recent (1863) Emancipation Proclamation in Liberia (p. 193 on the reel) and describes preaching to Muslim scholars (p. 207). Included in his visits were Christian denominational schools. He reports on the various settlements, their widows, orphans, personnel, needs, and the deserted sites of those which had not succeeded. An interesting section relates how he was given news of Grant's election (pp. 291-295). After a return voyage, he arrived in New York harbor in January, 1869.

Also on reel 2 are letters written about the status and support of Liberia College. A letter dated March 26, 1879, sketches the history of the College, begun about 1850, with the hope of its becoming a center for training in professions and public duties. The first freshman class enrolled twelve in 1854.

After its first president, Honorable J.J. Roberts, died in 1876, Pinney was asked to visit for the Society to inform them that support from New York would be withdrawn if changes were not made in location and policies of staff teachers' qualifications. Pinney returned again in the summer of 1878 to arouse support for high schools to prepare students for the College, but was unsuccessful in overcoming legislative vetoes and lack of support from the Liberian trustees of the school.

A letter dated March 31, 1879, to William Tracey explains how a law proposing self-help reorganization was defeated by delays and Pinney returned from Liberia to report that without supporting legislation no plan to assist the College could succeed.

Pinney wrote to William Coppinger, March 22, 1879, explaining that he went to Liberia expecting to stay from two to three years, but instead returned after only five months. Appointed as President of the College, Pinney was unable to implement the plans for self-help and removal to another site where this might have been economically feasible. Poverty of the parents required extra assistance for students. The letter gives statistics of the College's students and history.

The letter of February 1, 1878, addressed to Pinney from H. M. Schieffeline, is concerned with equipment and establishing a mission station in Liberia on the site of a former colony. Another letter from Schieffeline, dated October 28, 1880, discusses salary arrangements for Pinney in Liberia, scholarships for ministerial students, and an admonition not to build a log house until it appeared that plans would be fulfilled for the school.

Accruals and Additions

The materials for this collection were transferred to the Billy Graham Center Archives in August and November 1982 from Paul Pinney Stough.

Accession 82-117, 82-164

December 21, 1982

Frances L. Brocker

J. Nasgowitz

Retyped, March 31, 1988

J. Nasgowitz

D. Shorey

Collection 227 Ephemera of John Pinney
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Roman Script

Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

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